What Aspects of Employment Are Covered by Law?
Navigating the realm of employment law can be a daunting experience for both employees and employers. Employment legislation is often complex, but it is essential for businesses and their staff to have a good understanding of the law. In this way, you can make sure that the rights and responsibilities of workers are protected, and achieve a harmonious and legally compliant employment relationship.
In this guide from Clough & Willis' employment law team, we explain the basics of employment law (and the aspects of employment that are covered by British law) in order to provide a clearer understanding of how workers are protected - and what they can do if they feel their employment rights have been breached.
What is employment law?
The UK's employment laws create a comprehensive legal framework that governs the complex relationship between employers and employees. This framework seeks to maintain a balanced and fair workplace by addressing various details of employment, such as hiring and recruitment, remuneration, working conditions, dispute resolution, and termination of employment.
At their core, employment laws are designed to protect employees from exploitation and mistreatment, while simultaneously providing guidance and support to businesses in managing their workforces and adhering to legal obligations. The overarching aim of employment law is to foster a just and productive employment relationship that upholds the rights and interests of all parties involved.
Employment law must evolve over time in response to changing social values, technological advancements and economic factors. To support this, the UK government regularly reviews the legal framework to ensure it remains relevant and effective in addressing the needs of modern workplaces. It is essential for both employees and employers to stay informed about their rights and responsibilities under UK employment law, as failure to comply can lead to serious legal and financial consequences.
What does employment law cover?
An employment contract is a legally binding agreement between an employer and an employee. It outlines the terms and conditions of employment, including the employee's job title, hours, salary, and any benefits or entitlements, as well as any disciplinary procedures to which they may be subject.
Employment contracts can be written or verbal, although written contracts are recommended, as they provide clear evidence of the agreed terms. Employers are also legally required to provide employees with a written statement of employment particulars (which is separate from the employment contract) within two months of the employee's start date.
Working hours and holidays
UK employment law, via the Working Time Regulations, stipulates that adult workers (over 18 years) should not work more than 48 hours per week on average, unless they choose to opt out. This average is typically calculated over a 17-week period. Workers are also entitled to a daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours, a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, and a 20-minute break for shifts lasting more than six hours.
In terms of holiday entitlement, full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 28 days of paid annual leave, which can include bank holidays. Part-time employees receive a pro-rata entitlement based on the number of days they work each week.
Additionally, workers are entitled to a set amount of parental leave, allowing them to take paid maternity or paternity leave to look after a child or make arrangements for their welfare.
In the UK, workers are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if they are too unwell to work. Employees must be off work for at least four consecutive days (including non-working days) and meet certain eligibility criteria to qualify for SSP. This can be paid for up to 28 weeks.
The rate of SSP is frequently reviewed, and you can see what the current rate is by visiting the government's website.
Health and safety
Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy working environment for their employees. This includes carrying out risk assessments, implementing appropriate safety measures, providing adequate training, and maintaining workplace equipment in good working order. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and that of their colleagues.
UK employment law prohibits discrimination based on nine protected characteristics:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Employers must ensure that their recruitment process, working conditions, and promotion opportunities are fair and non-discriminatory, and that no worker receives less favourable treatment on the basis of any of these characteristics. This may involve making suitable arrangements and accommodations to ensure that everyone in the work environment has an equal opportunity to succeed.
Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK's Data Protection Act 2018, employers must protect their employees' personal data, such as contact details, National Insurance numbers, and bank account information. This includes obtaining consent for data processing, ensuring data accuracy, and implementing appropriate security measures to prevent data breaches.
What are the main pieces of employment legislation in the UK?
Several key employment laws form the foundations of UK workplace legislation, including:
● Employment Rights Act 1996: This act outlines the basic rights and protections afforded to employees, such as unfair dismissal, redundancy pay, and maternity leave. The Employment Rights Act 1996 consolidated and replaced a number of older labour laws, and forms the basis of employment law across the whole of the UK
● Equality Act 2010: This provides comprehensive protection against discrimination based on protected characteristics. The Equality Act was designed to consolidate previous legislation, and represents the foundation of current anti-discrimination law in England, Scotland and Wales
● Employment Relations Act 1999 - this act establishes a number of rights at work for trade union recognition, derecognition and industrial action
● National Minimum Wage Act 1998 - this act sets a minimum wage for employees across the UK. The government regularly reviews this to keep it in line with inflation, and introduced a higher National Living Wage rate in 2016, available to all workers over the age of 23
● Working Time Regulations 1998 - these regulations set out the rules governing working hours, rest breaks, and annual leave entitlements
● Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - this is the main piece of health and safety legislation in the UK, setting out the general principles and duties for employers and employees to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for everyone on-site
● Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 - this sets out the rights of existing employees and any obligations surrounding current contracts when a company goes through a business transfer
● Data Protection Act 2018 - this act implements GDPR in the UK, setting out the rules for the processing and protection of personal data
Do different forms of employment have different rights under UK employment law?
Different types of employees may have different rights under UK employment law. For example, workers (such as freelancers) and self-employed contractors have fewer employment rights than employees. Workers are entitled to basic rights such as the National Minimum Wage, paid holiday and rest breaks, but may not have the same level of protection against unfair dismissal or redundancy as employees.
Additionally, agency workers, temporary workers and part-time workers may have different rights and entitlements compared to permanent employees. However, under the Agency Workers Regulations 2010, agency workers are entitled to the same basic working conditions (such as pay and holiday entitlement) as comparable permanent employees after completing a 12-week qualifying period in the same job.
To find out how your status may affect your employee rights, take a look at this page.
What can you do if your employment rights are breached?
If you believe your rights have been breached under employment law - for example, if you feel you have been the victim of age discrimination, that your working conditions are unsafe, or that the terms of your contract have been broken - there are various avenues for resolving the matter.
Legal issues relating to employment are generally considered matters of civil law rather than criminal law, meaning they will usually be resolved between private parties and are designed to provide the wronged party with redress and compensation.
The first step is to raise the issue informally with your employer, to see if it is possible to resolve the matter through conversation alone; if this is not successful, you can follow your employer's formal grievance procedure to escalate the matter.
If the issue remains unresolved after following the grievance procedure, you may consider taking legal action. Before doing so, it is recommended that you seek legal advice or guidance from an organisation such as Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which provides free and impartial information on employment rights and disputes.
Where necessary, you should contact an experienced employment law solicitor from the team at Clough & Willis. We can advise you on whether you have a case, and guide you through each step of the legal process to ensure that your rights as an employee are protected.
In some cases, you may need to bring a claim to an employment tribunal. There are strict time limits for bringing a claim, usually within three months of the incident or the last in a series of incidents. It is important to note that some claims may require you to participate in early conciliation through Acas before proceeding to an Employment Tribunal.
If you would like to speak to a qualified employment law solicitor then please contact Chris Macwilliam on 0161 764 5266 or fill out an online enquiry form